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In their latest semi-weekly “Next Text” column, Next TV writers Daniel Frankel and David Bloom reflect on their days playing professional basketball in the European pro leagues, their near-death adventures as guerrilla mercenaries in Central America, and their failed Valley tech startup that created the world's first fish with all-natural tartar sauce.
Daniel Frankel: What up, D? So the “Big Day” finally arrived. Disney announced that it's buying the remaining 33% of Hulu from Comcast. The deal comes with a slightly lower “floor price” than expected. But it’s just a starter price. Tell me, what exactly was the news here?
David Bloom: I’m fascinated that the eventual resolution of a process that started back in a different, pre-pandemic time known as the Streaming Golden Age of Possibility has finally begun, with that earnest-money starter price. That gets the obvious part out of the way, finally, but leaves open the expectation that another bump is coming once the complicated valuation-assignment process is finally done. For those of us (mostly journalists and analysts) with an overdeveloped gene for wild speculation, this sets off another round of, “What if they swap a stake in ESPN, and a cable channel to be named later, for two 2027 draft picks?” Basically, I think it sets off the next streaming era, the one about consolidation. What say you? And who’s next?
Frankel: But help me understand — how was this even a turn of the screw? We’ve known for more than two years that Disney was going to buy out Comcast. We just didn't know for how much. But everybody made a big deal about Wednesday’s announcement. My group sent out a news alert. But what was the news?
Bloom: I’m not sure I should wade into the decision-making process for an esteemed news organization in sending out what it decides is a news alert-worthy item. That said, I do see this as an incremental step that makes concrete something that’s been floating over Hulu for most of four years. It is a turn of the screw, tightening up finances and relationships, as we move into Streaming’s Era of Consolidation. We’re seeing it also with many writers not getting their deals extended, with cancellations and mothballing of lots of shows, even with Paramount saying in its quarterly earnings announcement this week that it had narrowed (but not eliminated) its streaming losses. That news helped send Paramount shares soaring a whopping 10%. Maybe fewer losses makes $PARA a more attractive acquisition target?
Frankel: OK, so I’ll take that as the answer — NOTHING changed. We still don't know anything about the nuts and bolts of this deal. I may not get straight answers from you when I ask direct questions, but Taylor Sheridan sure shoots goddamned straight. Not only did a five-year-old season of Yellowstone just deliver 6 million viewers per 1,800-day-old episode for CBS, but Sheridan just launched a new “Yellowstone” show on Paramount Plus Sunday night, Lawmen: Bass Reeves. And he now owns entire years on the calendar — he’s got the working titled “Yellowstone” spinoffs 1944 and 2024 in the pipeline. And Paramount just declared that the final six seasons of the flagship Yellowstone will debut a year from now — 24 months after the first seven episodes of the fifth and final season premiered. And there's nothing we can say about it but, “Thanks!” I think Sheridan might just be the next Gene Roddenberry. I mean, “Star Trek” has generated decades of shows, movies, licensing and theme-park revenue. But that franchise didn't get off to this kind of start.
Bloom: Again, we went from theoretical to actual, which matters. Actual is also what we’re seeing now that CBS has cleaned up that little programming mistake five years ago putting a modern Western on a little-watched cable channel instead of the Big Eye. And no surprise, it did really well. That’s one of those things that actually happened, as opposed to theoretical musings about what if they had put it on CBS instead back in the day? That said, Sheridan is absolutely off to a far better start than Roddenberry ever imagined. Remember that the original Star Trek only lasted three seasons before it ended. Yes, it led to 10 movies, multiple animated series, and, eventually, a lot more TV. But that didn’t happen quickly. Sheridan’s ability to manufacture compelling IP across eras and genres is, I think, much more impressive than what Roddenberry and all of his excellent successors have created, and that’s no knock on "Star Trek." It’s just, well, at this rate, if Sheridan keeps up his pace of production, he’ll have eclipsed “Star Trek’s” worthy catalog within 10 years, not nearly 60.
Frankel: Referring once again to James Hibberd's excellent June Penske showbiz trade profile of Sheridan, he’s done it all not so collaboratively. At a pivotal time when the WGA has been trying to restore proper “writers room” order, this jackass is holed up on his ranch in a bunker, mucking up production schedules by insisting on doing it all on his own. Who could blame Kevin Costner for not being patient with this? And who could blame hardcore “’Stoners” for not wanting to wait a year for their favorite show to return? And while I’m eviscerating the most prolific creative mind to come out of Texas since Nick Jonas, what’s with his TV show? “Welcome to Montana. Now get the f*** out!”
Bloom: As someone who grew up in places that were either small towns, seasonally overrun by tourists, or both, I can sympathize with the sentiment you’ve so pungently encapsulated. Sheridan is certainly a protean figure, a one of one, bashing out series after series from his lonely writer’s garret/bunker/ranch at breakneck speed. He’s making all the rest of us look bad. Writer’s block? Feh! The good news for your ’Stoners is that they have a panoply of Yellowstone-related shows to watch in the interregnum. I’ll say it now. Gene Roddenberry and his many collaborators and successors created an enduring legacy not just of many much-loved shows, but of a certain flavor of techno-optimism and enthusiasm for what the future may bring that is too often in short supply. Sheridan is definitely working a much darker vein of inspiration. But atop the Paramount “mountain of entertainment,” only one G.O.A.T. sits in the throne, and that’s Mr. Montana, Taylor Sheridan.
Frankel: As a native Californian who has visited many beautiful places, cleaned up my trash and left the place as spotless as when I arrived, I feel targeted by Sheridan’s ideological purity. Sheridan hammers it in over and over that Montana’s No. 1 source of tourism, Californians, should stay the f*** home in the once beautiful state we’ve plundered. And hapless Asian tourists best not walk up to bears and feed them candy bars. Stay out. Don’t dare think of retiring here. Or even visiting. But it’s deeper. There are moments when Sheridan expresses a deep libertarian worldview. I couldn't find an excerpt for it to embed in here, but it was eloquently articulated by Harrison Ford, the Dutton Family patriarch in spinoff 1923. Goes something like this — humans are just fine, but in large groups, they make dumb decisions. So the only group worth protecting and looking out for is your family. F*** everyone else. Sheridan isn’t just a prolific flash-in-the-pan banging out TV shows to make a quick buck while the sun’s shining (rather brilliantly at the moment). This guy is … kind of ideologically dangerous, in my view. But he sure connects with his audience like few others in video business history. No doubt. It’s all authentic as hell. Certainly, he resonates with Bob Bakish. He wants to bundle Sheridan-fueled Paramount Plus with linear channels, just like Charter is doing with Disney Plus.
Bloom: That’s a very particular sort of bundle, but it does make me ponder the bigger question of creating new kinds of bundles, and what those might look like in the future as streamers flee toward lower costs and even, gasp, profits. Maybe, given high-interest rates and regulatory impediments, they opt for either A) non-streaming partnerships like what Verizon does with its build-your-own-bundle approach, or B) create inter-company bundles of streaming services without having to buy someone out in an expensive merger/acquisition. What say you, given that the Hulu deal is now reality instead of expectation? What does Brian Roberts do with that nice chunk of cash?
Frankel: Nine billion dollars or whatever it ends up being would make a nice down payment on, I don't know, Warner Bros. Discovery? But at 64, maybe Roberts starts thinking about the next phase of his own life, executes a stock buyback and … considers retiring to rural Montana? That is, of course, if Taylor Sheridan will have him.